Project Description

This project, which was completed in 2010, involved a Gap Analysis of a local County government’s approach to addressing the needs of people with disabilities in emergency planning, preparedness, response, and recovery activities. The project drew on multiple sources and four research methods: document analysis, telephone interviews, surveys, and focus groups.

Main Activities

Document Analysis

The first phase of the Gap Analysis entailed a review of written documentation concerning the County’s emergency planning activities. The two primary questions driving the document analysis were:

  • What has the County documented regarding persons with disabilities in the context of disaster preparedness, emergency response, and transition to short-term recovery?
    How does the County’s documented approach compare to state and national standards?

A total of 82 documents and associated websites were analyzed for this project, including local, state, and federal guidance on access and functional needs in disaster.

Telephone Interviews

The research team also conducted 12 telephone interviews with representatives from the County Office of Emergency Management and other relevant departments and agencies.

Internet Survey

The survey, which consisted of closed- and open-ended questions, included 44 questions concerning the various aspects of emergency response as noted from the document analysis. The online survey was completed by 33 department employees. The following questions guided the preliminary analysis of the survey data:

  • What did the County departments self-report regarding their access and functional needs efforts in terms of the primary categories of interest?
  • Are there identifiable gaps in the responses between the departments and best practices?
  • Within each department, how much consistency (or variance) is there across responses?
  • What questions/issues/topics emerged that should be probed more thoroughly in the open-ended focus group sessions?

Focus Group Interviews

The focus groups offered an added layer of insight into the daily activities and emergency management tactics that are employed by those responsible for assisting residents with disabilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster in the County.  The research team conducted a total of six focus groups with 30 County employees representing 13 different departments.


Strengths and Successes

The study found that there were things that the County was doing right in terms of emergency planning for populations with access and functional needs including the following strengths:

  • Collaboration within and across County departments
  • Identifying and adapting to emergent needs in planning and response
  • Identifying and mapping access and functional needs populations
  • Utilizing multiple communication channels


In addition to identifying strengths and successes, the analysis also revealed a number of critical gaps in emergency planning for the disability community including the following:

  • A lack of collaboration with the disability community
  • Use of inconsistent and outdated terminology in planning documents
  • Unclear chain of responsibility
  • Need for further identification of the disability population and associated organizations within the County
  • Need for more disability-specific information, planning, training, and exercises
  • Need for more human and financial resources and support

Recommendations―Opportunities and Action Areas

  • Develop clear and consistent terminology
  • Create and support a permanent access and functional needs position at the Office of Emergency Management
  • Establish an Operational Area Advisory Board (OAAB) access and functional needs committee
  • Refine access and functional needs population identification strategies
  • Broaden scope of communication and outreach strategies
  • Involve disability community in planning activities, trainings, and exercises
  • Document lessons learned in disaster after action reports
  • Increase direct outreach to congregate care facilities

Project Funder: EAD & Associates, LLC

Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Davis, EAD & Associates, LLC

Research Team: Michelle Meyer, Lori Peek, and Jennifer Tobin-Gurley, Sociology and CDRA, Colorado State University; Rebecca Hansen, EAD & Associates, LLC

Project Timeline: March 1-August 1, 2010